Words of Encouragement (9):
*Know when to take time out*.
As I explored previously in the post about ‘How much news is too much news?’, this one comes having just watched the news, and feeling that restless unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach, and the sense of stress in thinking about and acknowledging what our fellow human beings are going through in this window of history. Even safely tucked away from it all in my quiet flat, the news can still get right to us….and for those who are particularly empathetic it can touch us to the core.
We need to learn how to process things through this experience, this season. And we need to know when to take a step back, to take time out. This is especially true if we are in any position of responsibility or supporting or caring for other people. This might be on many levels or on one or two, but the principle holds true regardless. Your responsibilities might be your work, your volunteering roles, your parents, your spouse, your friends, your children. It could be the role you find yourself in in supporting and encouraging other people, in putting food on the table, in supporting colleagues and others, and you therefore need to know what your ‘triggers’ are in terms of when that feeling inside begins to get too much. When anxiety, stress or fear begins to overtake you.
At such times, step back.
Take some time out and rebuild yourself, nurture yourself, do something perhaps creative, artistic, musical, relaxing to take your mind and attention and emotions off this terrible situation we find ourselves in.
Take time out and take a break so that when you come back you can come back stronger, you can be there for yourself as well as those around you who are depending on you, and so that you can be purposeful in how you use your days so that you can and do make a difference for the better in the lives of those closest to you, and even in the lives of those you don’t know, by doing the right thing.
Life can leave us feeling crushed sometimes. Disappointment after disappointment can pile upon our fragile hearts so much so that we begin to lose hope. Discouragement can sometimes be worse that what we are afflicted by because when discouragement sets in, as I well know, we lose faith that things will get better for us.
Can anybody relate to this?
Whatever you may be going through right now in life, if you have ‘serendipitously’ (or purposefully) stumbled across this post, I want to plant some words of encouragement in your heart and mind.
I know what it is to be crushed. To watch other people’s lives progressing, sometimes almost seamlessly, while feeling I am face down in the dust, having to get up over and over, punch after punch, hard knock after hard knock.
If you can relate to this, whether that be because of ill health, chronic pain, mental distress, family breakdown, hurt, pain, abuse, loss, loneliness, divorce, bereavement, self-hatred, addiction or whatever other of the many things you might be facing in this broken world, then listen up, my friends.
When we feel crushed, it can feel so very personal on so many levels. Our spirits and hearts may be crushed, and our minds feel ‘broken’ and we’ve all but lost hope. It seems far too great a leap to even think that things can get better for us sometimes, don’t you think?
This is precisely where we need to start to gently and gradually work towards a vision for our recovery. As unbelievable as it may feel or seem to you right now, it matters so much.
How can you do this?
Faith. The Rock on which I stand and on which my Life is built, is and always will be Jesus Christ, so in the first instance I will point you to look to Him in your desperation and to call out to Him – He not only knows what to do, but He knows you personally, having woven your substance into being, giving you the breath of life, and He not only knows what to do, but He also has the power and ability to heal you, restore you, and give you a purpose to use your pain for good. Ask Him, however feebly, to Help you.
2. Inspiration. Regardless of where you stand in relation to my first point, this second one will help you to bridge the mental and emotional gap between where you are now and where you believe you can be. It is quite simply to find living examples of people who have defeated the odds, and to listen to their stories, to watch their videos, to read their books or blogs, to talk to them in person. This really helped me in a dark and difficult time in my life when I was diagnosed with c-PTSD.
One person I found a great deal of inspiration and courage from was and is Katie Piper. In her early twenties she was a young, attractive, blonde, outgoing woman, interested in a life as a TV presenter and she was also involved in modelling. Her career was built around her looks and her bubbly personality. She unfortunately got into an unhealthy short-term relationship and when she realised there were ‘red flags’ with this person and called things off, he retaliated. First she went through horrendous physical attacks by this man, who also raped her. Then he set her up by getting a friend of his to pour acid on her face. She was covered in severe burns from head to toe, and when her parents saw her in the hospital they couldn’t recognise their daughter because she was so severely disfigured. It was a world away from the world which she had once known and any hopes and dreams of her former career and life were instantly burned up with that acid. She couldn’t walk, talk, eat, was in excruciating pain and wanted to die. She now has gone through years of intensive burns treatment, is a writer, has published books about her experiences, set up a burns charity and foundation with the doctor who treated her, thereby helping countless others, has been involved in documentaries helping other survivors, and is now happily married, a wife, mother of two lovely daughters, has her independence again (after being terrified to leave her house) and appears on TV, radio, awards ceremonies and helps other people, as well as now branching out into other roles that have nothing directly to do with her ‘survival story’.
I find this incredible, because at her lowest Katie had all but completely given up. I read her biographies and watched her videos, because to me it seemed far ‘worse’ than anything I had ever gone through. This is not a call to ‘compare’ traumas, because we can’t really do that, pain is pain at the end of the day, but it helped me to have someone to look up to through her writings, almost like a ‘big sister’, and also because her story was so far removed from mine it wasn’t ‘triggering’ in the way other sources that I turned to were. I previously obsessively watched YouTube videos on bullying, bullycide and these negatively affected me because they were my experiences. But looking to other people who made it through their different tough times I was able to find inspiration and motivation. If they could go through all that and make it through then I could surely get through my ‘stuff’. Another person I found encouraging was Nick Vuijicic. I won’t go into his story here because you’ll understand my point of looking to people who haven’t given up and whose lives have the power to inspire your own recovery journey, but look him up.
The amazing thing is you’ll find so many more people whose lives testify to the tenacity of the human spirit, the determination to survive, and then to find ways to thrive, using those adverse experiences and pain in a transformative way, many touched and carried by the Grace of God, and seeing His touch in their lives. People, who like us become more outward facing, as they challenge the pain that draws them in and under, and defy it. People whose compassion is real because they, we, have gone through our own stuff too.
Find your people. They may surprisingly be closer than you think, because everyone has a story to tell. They might be famous people, or they may be the person you see every day but have no idea that they’ve themselves ‘overcome the odds’. Other people don’t necessarily see me, or you, or know our stories. They may think it’s all been plain sailing, but it has not. Similarly, there may be stories, lives of hope all around you. When you find them, if they are in that place where they want to share with you, listen carefully, attentively, and let that hope encourage you as you take your next steps forward, as you simply breathe your next breath.
3. Your future self. As you begin to dwell in the realm of possibility, inspired and encouraged by faith, and by seeing and hearing about the lives of real life people who didn’t let their circumstances defeat them, start to envision your own recovery. Who do you want to be on the other side of this? Forget the impossible, which is to say, forget that anything is impossible, it only seems to be.
So you can’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t either. Your vision doesn’t need to be bound by that: what do you want to be on the other side of this challenge? A blogger, a writer, a motivational speaker, a mentor, a compassionate friend, someone who listens, someone who inspires? Be specific if you can. Do you see yourself in front of a group of people who are suffering, telling them how you did it, and that they can too?
Your vision is yours. As you think about these things, you switch the pathways that are focusing on your pain, on your ‘prison’, to focusing on your possibilities.
‘Neurons that fire together wire together’, so be aware of the thought patterns that you are allowing to keep you down or help you up. Keep thinking of the possible and you will overcome the prison of your pain.
Creativity has been a great natural pain reliever for me, because of where it allows my mind to go, and the new neurological pathways that form and get strengthened. It isn’t an easy or a quick road, or way out, but it is a healthy way out and forward and I can’t even believe how much of a difference it has made in my life. Because it takes me away from the suffering, even momently, into a different mental, emotional, and neurological and psychological space. Keep building up your creative outlets, focus your mind on what can be built rather than what is broken, and you will find some soothing in that.
5. Your People
Times may get tough. You’ll need people on your side, cheering for you, motivating you, listening to you or being there when you break down. I have had some really special people on my side, and now it is my turn to be there for others. Find someone, find a group of people, and if you don’t have anyone in your friends or family to be those people, know that there are groups, helplines, charities and networks you can reach out to. In my deep times of PTSD and depression when I felt it was too much for me to keep burdening friends and family although they were always there for me, I turned to helplines and found encouragement there, even if for a moment, and that is what they are there for, to help you through, to help you now. You’re not meant to do this all on your own, so find your people, and believe that one day you will become that person to someone too so don’t feel ‘guilty’ for reaching out and accepting help – we’re all human and we all need that human touch and support. Accept their help and appreciate them. Your turn to reach out and give back will come in due course.
Listen to inspiring, motivational music, find your ‘fight song’, the one that gets you up, keeps you going. Mine, which I still listen to almost every day is ‘Overcomer’ by Mandissa. I like the video that goes along with it because it shows real people, real overcomers. What you allow in to your mind will be shaping what you think about your identity and the possibilities, so make sure it is positive, truthful and going to help you forwards, rather than keep you focused inwards on the pain and suffering. You’re an overcomer.
Gratitude is a far more powerful force than people give it credit for. Suffering will lead you to a greater appreciation of the things most people take for granted – the very ability to breathe your next breath in life. To do the simplest of things, this takes on a new meaning, a new value. Be grateful for the ‘small victories’ for they really aren’t that small at all. I can’t tell you how it felt that I could not move my body or do the smallest of things without feeling like my mind was exploding in a nightmare, depression meant I could barely function it was a massive achievement for me to merely feed myself, to wash a cup, and yet I’ve somehow maintained a full time job, done well and I’m out and about traveling and meeting friends again when I was terrified to leave the house before. Taking a spoonful of food might be our greatest achievement in a particular day. Sleeping through the night an incredible feat. Going to your next appointment. Tying your shoelaces. Brushing your hair when your hands are crippled with pain. Remembering to take your medication. Staying alive. These ‘small things’ can be massive, so appreciate them, and appreciate the many blessings you have.
There is so much on your side, your Creator is with you and for you, people who care for you are propelling you on, there is so much motivation in the lives of others who have made it through. You might feel like giving up right now, like it is an impossibility, but take heart, and simply take that next breath.
I sometimes feel that writing is a gift through which we can better understand our life’s journey.
It gives the seed of a thought expression, the opportunity to ‘dance’ into life and then perhaps more profoundly to be noticed and nurtured and watered into life by a reader.
It is quite an exquisite thing to realise that one’s thoughts can connect with those of another.
I’m writing just now to discover those seeds of thought that perhaps need to be planted and watered in order to find their true expression.
What I’m thinking of right now is the gradual movement into a season of more peaceful healing. For years I have been in recovery from complex PTSD and literally battling demons, but greater is He. My Creator, God.
Sometimes when our painful symptoms are alleviated we might think that we can press on into the next stage, whereas what we may really need is simply to slow down and gently take the time to fully heal. It is a real gift to be given time and space to work things out, to allow the healing waters to soothe the troubled soul and mind and to restore what has been broken or frozen in fear by the darkness. God Is Good. The healing that once seemed impossible is beginning to bud and bloom and a new day is sure to follow.
Every now and then we need to remind ourselves to take the time. To accept that the wounds may be deeper than we would like to face, and to give ourselves that time to be restored by the hand of our loving Creator. There are things we can do too for ourselves, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Yet, the tracks of years of thinking in one way may take time to be washed away as we lay down new tracks, those of life giving thought, as we think of what is true, noble, good, pure, excellent, praise worthy.
There is a time for healing. A time for all purposes under the sun. And perhaps this is your time as well as mine. Give yourself the gift of accepting that time. You may have to face difficult things but soon enough the path will get smoother, either that or you will get stronger and the challenges will no longer seem insurmountable. There is a place of peace and restoration promised to us in Christ for the healing of our hearts, for the mending of the broken-hearted and the grace that gives us the gift of complete forgiveness…which as we let ourselves receive it and as the chains that fettered and bound us gradually fall away, leads us to walk ever gently into true freedom.
Don’t be disheartened if it takes time. Give yourself the gift of that time, and I will learn to give myself that gift also. The darkness and the lies are never greater than the Beauty of Truth and Pure Love that has come in Christ to set us free. So know that you are valuable, worthy of healing, of forgiveness and love, and take time today to rest in that.
The past few years have been characterised by exactly that: the past. Despite all of my determined efforts to push past life’s hurts and to build up my life, my body, mind, heart and spirit simply could not do this. Life had other lessons for me to learn, which in a sense meant being broken open for all of the hurt to begin pouring out.
The past few years have been intense at times: I went through a process of a lot of the pain and hurt and anxiety and depression that had been stuffed down and bottled up within me, ‘exploding’ to the surface in what felt like a breakdown. I was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. It was pretty awful, and it had felt that way for a very, very long time indeed.
Do you notice that I said ‘had’? That is monumental. I notice even at the early stages of this new year a shift within me – within my thinking and within my heart. I may not be completely healed or whole or well or recovered yet, but the nightmare of explosions within my mind keeping me trapped and frightened in this unreality between past and present has in fact passed. Or at least it feels like that just now, and that is incredible. I didn’t know if my mind and heart would ever feel calm again and at one point I was feeling like giving up.
The noticeable shift is that my heart and mind are naturally inclining towards the now and the not yet rather than to the past. The past difficulties I have faced now are part of a bigger narrative, they are being processed, redefined and finding their place and in working on this I am allowing myself to find my true identity and to walk in it.
And as naturally as if I had always been this way (which I never had) I am able to ponder the present and the future (the ‘now and next’ as my mum says) without feeling crippled, pulled back or limited by the pain of the past.
It is perhaps for many people a simple thing, taken for granted to be in the now and the next, but it is a beautiful miracle for me, one which I would like to pause and to appreciate with you right now, even as we move into the not yet.
Sleep it off: sometimes we really need the chance to rest our bodies and our minds. If you have tried the other tips, maybe you could try to get some sleep. Make sure that you have eaten well and maybe have a warm drink and then giver yourself some rest and the chance to heal.
In my last post (21) I wrote about taking time out just to ‘be’ and to enjoy doing nothing in particular. This post explores taking time out to reflect and to deal with some of our ‘stuff’. Not the stuff in our attics, spare rooms, garages or basements – but to spend a bit of time sorting out what’s overflowing from our ’emotional junk drawers’ in our hearts and minds.
Hopefully we’ll all have a bit of time this season where we can have even at least a day or two to ourselves to rest and reflect. If we think we don’t have this time, then maybe we are not being intentional in making this time for ourselves (time we would otherwise spend watching TV perhaps).
The new calendar year will be upon us in a matter of weeks, and the general mood of new years, and beginnings of various sorts tends to be geared more towards action rather than reflection. Those around you, as well as the things you read and see in the media, will be imparting messages of goals, things to accomplish, plans and experiences.
This time of the year, however, lends naturally to reflection, to taking time to pause and ponder, to rest and be thankful, to look back before looking forwards, to re-evaluate where we are and where we need to go. It is also a time for being honest with ourselves and taking time to deal with some of our ‘stuff’ emotionally and mentally.
We can choose to view some of our struggles as blessings. For example, this time of year can bring certain things in our lives more sharply into focus. Light might be shed upon our true feelings and motives, for example, the sociable nature of this season might reveal our inner loneliness; the frivolity and consumerism might pull on our heart strings to search for something deeper and more meaningful in our lives; the end of one year might nudge us into reflection as to whether we have made the best use of our time or simply been frittering it away.
As much as we need plans, and to take action, we also need to do this purposefully and to do so requires quieter times of thinking and reflection.
Moving forwards also requires letting go of some of the burdens that we carry. We might be allowing things from our past to hold us back from stepping into the future that we long for. Perhaps we need healing, need time to seek counsel, therapy and to get help with how to deal with traumas or difficulties in our lives. This can be a long road, but we have to start somewhere and we don’t have to do it all at once. We often face a ‘stop-start’ process in any journey of self-reflection, repentance, healing, recovery and change. But the thing is to start, to reflect upon what is needed to go from where we are to where we are meant to be.
I am blessed in that I don’t take this journey alone. Jesus Is my Shepherd, King, Healer and Lord, and He leads me forward with grace and peace. There is healing that only He can bring and things that only He can do. There are also certain things that I must do to cooperate and participate in the process – things like renewing my mind, working on difficult issues, forgiving, letting go, and reframing the way I think about difficulties I have experienced. These things, like the changing of the seasons take time.
But it’s important that we do take time to reflect upon our lives and to consider what things we have been ‘stuffing down’ deep within our hearts, and into our subconscious that we hope will just ‘go away’, things that actually in their time need to be dealt with in order for us to go forwards in our journey with a greater understanding, appreciation of life, sense of identity and purpose.
Will you give yourself some time to do just that this season? You need and deserve it. x
It’s 00:50 hrs. I can’t sleep. I’m in the midst of the healing process – not always comfortable – and I’m trying to distract myself. I’ve come a long way. A very long way. It’s miraculous that I’m here writing this, and sometimes I forget that. I forget it perhaps because in part I have tried to ‘block out’ the reality of what I had to go through to get here, in order that I can press ahead with my life. But if, like me, you’ve been through or are going through your own recovery process, then you’ll know that sometimes you just have to stop a while, before it all stops you.
Bits and pieces
My great desire is to be a voice of encouragement to someone else going through tough times, like me. Maybe that someone is you, and maybe you have something to share with the world to encourage each other too. I pray over this blog, and I believe that if you’ve stumbled upon it, then it’s not really ‘by chance’. In some way, beyond our understanding, maybe we are meant to connect, to allow our paths, our stories, our healing journeys to coincide.
If you’ve been through trauma, or any kind of suffering, perhaps in your younger, formative years, such that it affected your very sense of self and identity, and if you are a survivor, then you might recognise certain patterns in your psychological survival mechanisms after the circumstances have passed.
I’m not an expert, I’ve read and researched a bit, but I write mainly from painful experience, authentic, real, lived out experience. People wouldn’t know just from looking at me. Maybe you know what I mean?
First the trauma, maybe repeated trauma, maybe over a period of years. You’re in fight / flight / freeze mode, and ‘exist’ in that way even after the events have passed….long after….your body, mind, brain, nervous system – they’ve all been conditioned that way.
You’re not whole, your insides….well, they’re all in bits and pieces, just like your fragmented memories, your overwhelming emotions, your identity, your life.
Fortunately, life comes in waves, in seasons, and nothing stays the same. The darkest of days endure too long, but they also pass. However, even though the events, the seasons, the lived reality passes, it’s still in you, part of you, and you can’t just ‘shake it off’.
So you try to get away. At least, that’s what I did. You can’t always get away physically but perhaps you do. Some of the ways I tried to ‘get away’ from the mess and hurt of it all was to put my head down and ‘over achieve’. I focused on my studies, I aced them, but I couldn’t cope with human interaction. I was so, so very broken, and so terribly afraid. Can you relate? Maybe that’s part of your own story too?
Getting away also in some ways meant telling myself those things are behind me, even though I was crippled and shackled by the piercing pain, I tried to imagine my way out of things – to dream of a future, to overcompensate in trying to think of myself in a new way, whereas all of that was just trying to assuage a wound (as if trying to heal a disease with a band-aid / plaster) that was far too deep to be assuaged, without first coming to the surface in all its awfulness, exposed and therefore painful, leaving me vulnerable, but only then with a chance of real healing.
Breakdown or breakthrough?
Have you lived this too? When you can no longer cope with normal day to day things, when getting through and surviving really is just a facade, and your body, brain and all that you are just won’t let you go any further? The ‘disease’, the trauma in you, is screaming to get out, to be released….and ‘sorry kid, it’s going to hurt a heck of a lot for a long time before it gets any better’.
That’s the short, sweet and sugar coated summary of my experience. It HURT. Goodness, did it all hurt! You know what I’m talking about? Friend, you’re not alone.
What might breakdown look like? Unrelenting panic attacks, inability to function, severe depression, fear, anxiety, flashbacks, C-PTSD symptoms, suicidal ideation, dissociation, nightmares, poor health, weakness, being awake in a ‘nightmare’, avoidance, crying, helplessness, crippling pain, re-experiencing childhood trauma, poor relationships with food and other ‘crutches’ or control mechanisms, relationships falling apart, psychosis, and oh how the list can endlessly go on.
But if you imagine the state of play when someone has a disease, or needs to undergo an intensive operation, then you know logically that things have to get a whole lot worse before they begin to get any better. And perhaps the breakdown is a gateway to a breakthrough. Pus is released, the ‘boil’ is lanced, the intensive operation gets to the ‘root’ of the problem, and only through this messy, painful and unpleasant ‘recovery’ process can things begin to heal.
And truly, we need a Great Physician to do that deep healing work, that purification, bringing the forgiveness, healing, love and restoration that only Christ can bring.
When you want to move forward but your body and mind won’t let you.
I have to encourage myself right now and I hope I can encourage you too. It’s admirable that we’ve got this far, and that we have a vision of leaving it all behind to positively press on into a brighter and purposeful future where we can use the pain and trauma to do good in the world and to help other people.
We’ve got the vision, the goals even plans, but our bodies are in some kind of psychological and emotional toxic shock and we are ‘stuck’. Recovery doesn’t happen over night. We get help, we learn tools and techniques, we cry out for Help and we receive a touch of Grace. But recovery is seldom a linear process and that is a tough and frustrating reality.
Building blocks and stepping stones.
But just for a minute, in case you are getting discouraged, think of how far we have come already. Sure, it would be great to not feel that turmoil of mind, and just press ahead and accomplish what we want to, but we need to be aware of what our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits are saying to us for they might be all telling us to slow down, even to stop….and to heal.
It takes time, practice and patience. It is frustrating, and tough. But these building blocks are stepping stones to the future, and we can’t miss out these ‘baby steps’….of learning to crawl, to breathe, before we can consider walking, running, or even some day taking off in flight, to soar far above the rubble we’ve left behind.
What about right now?
I’m advising myself, that sometimes we’ve just got to sit through it, bear with it, ‘tough it out’, and let the healing process have its place. We need time and space to get better, and sometimes that means admitting what we perceive to be a (temporary) ‘failure’ – of realising what we can’t do, at least not right now, and giving ourselves the time to recover, train and grow strong so that someday we can do it.
Right now, I’m holding on, being Held, muddling through, finding perspective. You know what I mean, right?
This is it, and this is where ‘life happens to be’ right now – no great offerings of advice, just telling it as it is, and hoping that together we can find the strength and courage to take that one next step in the right direction. I’m rooting for you, and I hope you’re rooting for me too. Be blessed. x
If you need motivation and encouragement in your times of struggle, try to remember that everyone is broken and in need of healing in some way, so you are not alone, we’re in this together and you can make it through.
I want you to feel, no matter who you are or where you are in life, that in visiting my blog, you will find encouragement and hope.
It is the final day of Mental Health Awareness Week today in the UK…but let’s keep the discussion going.
Today, I want to encourage you by talking about living life in an increasingly digital world. As human beings, we are created for connection. We all need healthy relationships and connections, but as each and everyone of us know and have experienced to varying degrees, we live in a broken world and a fractured society, where the very relationships that are supposed to bring health and wellbeing and add something wholesome to our lives can actually be destructive, hurtful and a cause of great emotional, mental and even physical distress.
We live in an increasingly ‘connected’ world. People are constantly ‘engaged’ with some form of communication: look around you and you’re bound to see someone, even if that someone is yourself alone in a room, ‘plugged in’ to a laptop, a phone, a device of some sort, and chances are you’re not simply engaged in researching a topic. People are constantly looking for connection, validation, to be ‘liked’, for our lives to be considered worthwhile, important, ‘enough’.
And yet, the sad thing is, family members, friends, colleagues, strangers can be sitting side by side, seemingly ‘communicating’ with somebody online, and yet ignoring the real life human interaction available to them, while scrolling through pictures of other people’s filtered lives and feeling none the better for it.
I think it was Gretchen Rubin, author of ‘The Happiness Project’ who said that technology is a good servant, but a bad master. How true! It is great to be able to communicate with friends and loved ones across the world, in other towns, and to learn new things, to grow and develop and be encouraged, and build helpful connections in our shared humanity, and link in with people of similar mindsets and interests. But our engagement with technology has its place.
I am seeking to be more aware of how I use technology in line with my core values, and one thing I feel strongly about is that I want to use my experiences to help other people.
Friend, do you not notice a disconnect in your life, when you are overly ‘connected’ online? Are you aware of what impact the constant stream of auditory and visual information is having on you and your mental health?
In any healthy relationship, boundaries are gradually established for the good of both parties. Let’s think through the boundaries we are setting with ourselves in our relationship with technology and the online world.
A good place to start is to do some soul searching, away from the computer or internet, and get in touch with what is important to you in your life, your core values, your sense of purpose, and what connection means to you.
Personally, as a Christian, before coming to know the Lord Jesus, I often felt utterly alone in the world. I’m of the ‘Millenial’ generation, and probably in the last age group to remember growing up without technology. Some kids in secondary / high school had phones, but all the phones were capable of was phone calls and texts, and it was only a few people who had them. As a teenager, I wanted to question and swim against the tide of society – I never wanted to go out and get drunk or mindlessly do things many peers wanted to do – I wanted to find God, to be spiritual, to be kind to nature, to become a writer, to travel, to find my purpose on a deep level and to put something valuable into the world, to make a change, to advocate for human rights, and animal rights….possibly as many teenagers in one way or another still do. But I was resistant to technology, and how it seemed to be ‘creeping up’ on society, yes, it was good to use the internet on my parent’s home desktop PC, but I refused to get a mobile phone until I literally was compelled to by my mother when I was aged 20, and even then I got an old school basic model that probably now belongs in a museum, and all it was capable of doing was calls and texts….it was really more for my mother’s peace of mind than something I desired. I floated my way walking in parks and near rivers near my beautiful university, studying English Literature, Politics, Gender Studies, Human Rights, International Development, and longing, dreaming of being a writer, and pouring out my heart and thoughts through the written world – ‘old school’ style using actual pen and paper 🙂
Yet despite my daydreaming, my heart was broken, and I was a fragile, fractured little bird who had been tossed by tempest and not comforted. My inner pain was great and unseen to the world, and before knowing The Lord Jesus I felt deeply alone inside despite having people around me. I do think however we were more ‘connected’ growing up without obsessing with our phones and having them only as a means of communication to let people know where we were or for emergencies. Since becoming a Christian, I have despite painful years of healing and various challenges, and sometimes spells of loneliness, never actually been Alone, and never felt alone in the same way as I once did. I believe the deepest need of the human soul is love and connection – with the One Who Created us. Yet, I digress, this is not a sermon, and is not just for believers, it is a post for everyone.
What I want you to be aware of is *why* you are seeking connection from technology, and that you need to establish boundaries with it. There was a time when I realised I needed to set boundaries for the sake of my mental and emotional wellbeing because I was encountering several posts from friends about their relationships, marriages and babies, or even travel and other significant life events….and it was getting me down….feelings that were there already were exacerbated by the ‘comparison trap’ …. I have no doubt that you also face this in your online experience even if the things you are drawn to compare with are different from those I mentioned….maybe they include body image, health, fitness, life goals and such like.
So get to know yourself, your values, how your use of technology either lines up with them or not, and what your personal mental health struggles might be. Set some boundaries so that you already have in mind how using technology will be a positive and healthy experience to you and don’t like we all too often do, just get drawn into the next click or ‘conversation’ / debate.
2. Strike a Balance
While there can be many benefits to our mental health in using technology – for there is a whole world out there where we can find support, information, shared experiences, helpful resources, friendships, inspiration, new opportunities, passions and projects – there can also be many ways in which engaging with technology can cause us mental and emotional distress and can cause us to disengage with real life and human connections, and even find ourselves in a disconnect with ourselves.
Try to use technology purposefully and know what your purpose is before you ‘power up’ as it were. That will give you a sense of satisfaction and you will have more control over the effects on your mental health if you do. Know when it is time to switch off, and to connect in the analogue world. Find out how it feels to walk in the rain, or barefoot through the grass…without feeling the need to document it or share it with anyone else, unless perhaps the someone else is someone you are connecting with in that moment and shared experience. Walk outside and experience the fresh and vibrant colours and life and sounds around you – have a time and space for capturing that whether on film or photo, but then also make time to leave those things at home, or in your pocket, and simply LIVE IT. It will be so good for your soul, your mental health and your emotional wellbeing and sense of connection with your own life. Too often we feel rushed and hurried and bombarded with information, that we can be left feeling lonely, isolated and as if we are watching our lives go by rather than living them, when we face this disconnect. Real life relationships are where real connection is found, even if that relationship is a solitary one with yourself thinking, reading, or reaching out to God in prayer. Relationships take time, work, attention and commitment, so put the phone down and realise that what is before you is so precious, and not everyone needs to know every detail of what is sacred to you. Don’t let your real life relationships and your mental health crumble because of being overly ‘connected’ or merely plugged in to the online world. Savour what it is to be human, to be present in the moment and to be with the people you love, or build upon the relationships you find challenging without the help of a screen to do so all the time.
3. When you are online, seek out the positive
Your mental wellbeing *can* benefit from your online connections. Hopefully someone somewhere might have benefitted from reading this post. I do hope so. I see other people like me who have gone through various challenges to their mental wellbeing, who use their online presence to reach out to and connect with other people, and who use their experiences and what they have learned to help others who might be facing similar challenges in life. You have a wealth of experience at your fingertips, and in your heart. Seek to benefit from positive role models, and add something positive to help someone else too. Being purposeful and thoughtful in our use of technology is sure to help our mental health as well as setting boundaries and knowing when to take a break.